Something quite special happened in Fort Wayne in November.
Violins of Hope came to town, and while we had hoped the two-week commemoration of music, visual art, public conversation, interfaith dialogue, readings and educational activities would be meaningful, none of us could have imagined the outpouring of interest and support the project would engender.
The Violins of Hope Steering Committee determined early on that the project would focus on the memory and legacy of those who were murdered and those who survived the Holocaust. The themes of Defiance, Resilience and Legacy were chosen to guide the development of Violins of Hope Fort Wayne.
We want to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful citizens of Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana for their exemplary support for the Violins of Hope project – for attending so many events, for bringing friends and relatives, and for embracing the defiance, resilience and legacy of these Jewish heroes.
Kudos to all the sponsors and the city of Fort Wayne for making this major undertaking possible. Through the financial generosity of foundations, corporations and individuals, Violins of Hope Fort Wayne sprung to life. None of what we experienced as a community could have been realized without this significant financial support.
Thanks to the nearly 30 community partners and those who poured their collective hearts and souls into making this a true collaboration. Each invested time, talent and treasure into creating a model community undertaking, the likes of which none of us have experienced before.
We must also thank the musicians of this community who brought to life the sound, presence and stories of Violins of Hope. Through dozens of local area performances, they helped us honor the memories of the brave musicians who owned and played these precious instruments.
Thanks to the educators, scholars and community representatives comprising the Violins of Hope steering committee, and many other volunteers who worked so tirelessly for nearly two years to meticulously plan this project. From creating sophisticated arts and education programs to serving as docents, gallery greeters and drivers for our violinmaker and author, no task was too daunting or too small.
To Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, thank you for painstakingly and lovingly restoring these instruments and reclaiming your lost heritage. You continue to give voice to the victims and reinforce the positive messages of hope and harmony.
And, lastly, to the musicians who originally played these Strings of the Holocaust, who were deported from their countries, endured untold hardships, were beaten and forced into hard labor, and who gave their lives, we are reminded through your art that heroic aspirations will always remain a cause for optimism and that a wellspring of beauty can emerge from morally desolate barbarism.
What we do matters. If we as a community emerge from this endeavor by doing the right thing when we see fellow human beings targeted for ethnic, cultural or religious beliefs, then we have succeeded. Our aim is that Violins of Hope will inspire people to disallow the hatred that occurred throughout Europe in the 1930s and '40s from rearing its ugly head again.
There is a lovely Yiddish word used to signify that something blessed is meant to be – “bashert.” We surely believe the visit of Violins of Hope to Fort Wayne was bashert.
This truly is a season of Thanksgiving.
Jaki Schreier is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne. James W. Palermo is managing director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
This story has been corrected.